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GARLIC GROWING GUIDE
The ten stages of growing garlic
Unless eaten green, preserved or dehydrated garlic should be stored as fresh bulbs. Once garlic is dried it needs to be sorted, hung and left ready to be eaten. This is the second part after harvesting where the garlic goes through a dormancy period.
Once garlic is dry it needs to be sorted to make sure that is has no disease. Choose the best bulbs for next years crop and prepare it for storing.
It is necessary to remove the roots and the dirty bulb wrappers before storing. Unless you are looking at plaiting your softneck garlic, also to remove the false stem or pseudostem (what most people think of as the stem) prior to storing. This can normally be done with a pair of scissors, although the hardneck garlic (less so the semi-bolting turbans, creoles and asiatics) are likely to need to be cut with secateurs as the stem is very tough.
While removing the dirty bulb wrapper and trimming, watch for any bulbs with damage or disease. Any in poor condition should be destroyed. We keep the necks on the bulb quite long, the longer the neck being stored the longer it should keep as it reduces air and moisture entering the bulb. The same can be said with keeping on as much bulb wrapper as possible for storing.
Sizing is a process more important for commercial growers but is necessary for the home gardener to find the best bulbs for replanting next year. Bulb sizing names vary in the industry both here abroad. We use a wooden template to poke bulbs through to decide the various grades.
Premium prices are obtained for larger bulbs which contain larger cloves, as generally larger cloves will grow large bulbs next year. A small bulb could only weigh 20gm, while a extra large could weigh in at 100+gms. This is a five fold difference to any returns for a commercial grower if selling by weight and for the home gardener a larger bulb and cloves are easier to use in the kitchen.
Garlic grades are based on the width of the garlic. Commercial garlic grade within the trade is based on a numbering system. Size 3 is 30-35mm, 4 is 35-40mm, 5 is 40-45mm, 6 is 45-50mm while grade 7 is 50-55mm. We prefer a grade based on a description of the size. Our preferred sizing scale would be:
• Small <50mm
• Medium 50-60mm
• Large 60-70mm
• Extra Large 70mm+
If you are a commercial grower or are an interested home grower, then the best time to record the results of your harvest is after grading. We collect information on bulb size, average bulb weight and other records between the different garlic groups. In this way we know how much garlic to grow next year, whether our trials worked, and our growing regimes for the next season. Our goal is constant improvement.
One way to keep your softneck garlic (silverskin and artichoke) is to plait them before or after curing. While the strongly bolting garlics cannot be plaited due to their thick scape, in some warmer climates some of the semi-bolting hardneck (turban, creole and asiatic) garlic groups might be able to be plaited. There are plenty of online videos describing how to plait garlic.
When to Store
Storing garlic is the final stage of curing. In NZ even in cold climates where the late harvesting garlics occurs in early February, the start of Autumn in March is a time when culinary garlic (not planting stock) should begin to be stored.
This is because in March in NZ the weather typically begins to change. Daily temperatures below 16°C and moist air from rainfall (>65% humidity) are the seasonal triggers for garlic bulbs to develop green internal shoots in preparation for shooting. Naturally garlic is capable of shooting two months after harvesting - particularly turbans. Therefore it is best to bring culinary garlic inside where temperatures are more stable and where garlic can be enjoyed for the rest of the year.
How to Store
Garlic should be stored in a dry, mild, low humidity environment out of direct light. Ideally, garlic should be stored between 10-20°C. The optimum temperature is 13-14°C. If the garlic is stored too cool (between 4-10°C) it is likely to sprout. Storing temperatures above 20°C results in quicker bulb shrinkage and decreases their storage life.
Garlic is best stored at 45-50% relative humidity. Low humidity will result in the bulb withering, too high (70+%) and it will encourage molds and roots to form. Ideally garlic should be stored in a stable temperature zone without significant fluctuations.
While it is difficult to obtain ideal home conditions, try to find a spot that will be satisfactory. Put garlic in a space with good air circulation (not air tight containers). A good place is a paper bag, woven or netted bag/basket similar to those used for onions. Do not use glass or plastic containers as garlic will generate condensation and molds.
Garlic matures in storage. At their freshest and juiciest after harvest the clove skins are hard to peel. As garlic ages the flavour is enhanced, the clove shrinks making it easier to peel. In storage all cloves will eventually dry out, go moldy or sprout.
Depending on the type of garlic and how tight their bulb and cloves skins are garlic will continue to lose weight through moisture loss. Softneck garlic is known to lose 4-5% of their weight during normal storage, some types (porcelain, standard purple stripe and glazed purple stripe lose 5-10%), while the remaining garlic types can loose 10-15% of their weight due to continued drying.
In the kitchen it is great to have a small amount of bulbs ready for use. It is best placed in a breathable container (not plastic), basket, terracotta pot or metal container with holes. Keep out of direct light and in or nearby the kitchen.
Garlic types have different storage times. If you are growing a variety of garlic then consider using turban garlic first as it has the shortest storage duration. Consider the storage chart as to the length of storage for various types of garlic.
This is a safe way to keep garlic long term. Pick healthy, firm cloves and remove their skins and slice them lengthways or into small pieces. Place on the dehydrator's drying trays until dry and crisp. Keep in an airtight container away from direct light. The dry flakes can also be made into powder with a mortar and pestle. The taste remains distinctly that of the original garlic group.
Another proven storage technique is freezing the cloves which keeps much of their flavour. You can put the cloves with or without peeling them, into a ziplock bag and freeze. If pre-peeled you can also chop them before freezing. If the clove skins are on it is normally easier to remove them after they are frozen.
Garlic in Vinegar
Garlic can be preserved in vinegar or wine but it does change the flavour. We advise against preserving garlic in oil because of the risk of botulism. Garlic is prone to botulism due to it's pH being between 5.3-6.3 which is considered too high for preserving in this way.
Garlic can also be hot or cold smoked. For hot smoked use whole bulbs and remove any loose wrappers (skin), brush olive oil over each bulb and smoke for 1-2 hours depending on the temperature of your smoker. The smoked cloves' contents should resemble a paste like roasted garlic. Cold smoking takes between 1-10 days.
Using standard garlic bulbs, garlic can be turned into black garlic - a licorice like food with a non-garlic umami flavour. Black garlic can be made by importing a specialised cooker or alternatively by using a rice cooker, slow cooker or dehydrator can be used to keep garlic bulbs (wrapped in two layers of tin foil) at a low heat for 30-40 days.
Black garlic is ready when the cloves are black and their contents treacly. It is not fermented as no bacteria or micro-organisms are used. Black garlic goes through the Maillard reaction of chemically changing amino acids which causes the browning. It's a treat.
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